It's amazing how often we fall into the trap of hit-centric thinking. I gave a few examples of this in a previous post on the Dangers of "Headism" (or should that be "Hitism"? Advice in the comments, pls), but more examples pop up each day.
Today's example is the mistake of seeing the world through Top 10, 100, and 500 lists. There's nothing wrong with ranking by popularity--after all, that's just another example of a "wisdom of crowds" filter--but all too often these lists lump together all sorts of niches, genres, sub-genres and categories into one unholy mess.
Case in point: the Feedster Top 500 blogs. It gives the top ten blogs (by incoming links) as:
- Boing Boing
- Albino Blacksheep
- Daily Kos
- The News is NowPublic.com
- Michelle Malkin
Meanwhile Technorati has updated its Top100 list (also ranked by incoming links) and the top ten there are:
- Boing Boing: A Directory of Wonderful Things
- Daily Kos: State of the Nation
- Drew Curtis' FARK.com
- Gizmodo: The Gadgets Weblog
- Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall
- Davenetics Politics Media Musings
What have we learned (other than that the methodology of counting incoming links is still a messy science)? Well, not much. There are a couple of gadget blogs in each list, two or three political blogs, some uncategorizeable subculture ones (BoingBoing, FARK), a personal blog (dooce) and a Flash developers site (Albino Blacksheep).
These lists are, in other words, a semi-random collection of totally disparate things.
To use an analogy, top-blog lists are akin to saying that the bestsellers in the supermarket today were:
- DairyFresh 2% Vitamin D Milk
- Hayseed Farms mixed grain Bread
- Bananas, assorted bunches
- Crunchios cereal, large size
- DietWhoopsy, 12-pack, cans
- and so on...
Which is pointless. Nobody cares if bananas outsell soft drinks. What they care about is which soft drink outsells which other soft drink. Lists only make sense in context, comparing like with like within a category.
Jeff Jarvis made this point nicely yesterday:
When Ad Age gives you lists of magazine revenue, it separates women’s and entertainment and business publications; in big-media, those pass as niches and they are far more valuable comparisons. When talking about newspapers, you don’t lump in metro papers with town papers with trade papers; it’s a meaningless lump.When somebody can tell me who the queen of the knitting bloggers is, then I’ll listen…. and so will knitting advertisers.
And now ClickZ is complaining, as well:
[The Feedster list] packs dubious value as an evaluation tool for media buyers, according to several agency executives who spoke with ClickZ News. That's because it doesn't rank blogs according to niche or topical focus, wherein lies their main appeal to marketers.
My take: this is another reminder that you have to treat niches as niches. When you look at a wildly diverse three-dimensional marketplace through a one-dimensional lens, you get nonsense. It's a list, but it's a list without meaning. What matters in the rankings within a genre (or subgenre), not across genres.
Which brings us back to the music service examples that we've been talking about here. The problem with one-size-fits-all services is that they treat all music the same way, which suffers from lowest-common-denominator problems. The genre-specific ones, meanwhile, are optimized for one kind of music but don't
integrate easily with the big world of music outside that genre. The
question, and the big opportunity, is how to do both, while avoiding
the apples-and-oranges problems that blog lists and other hit-centric
ranking exercises fall into.